Walking your talk

Nancy Anderson, RN, MA, Senior Vice President of Engagement Solutions
Nancy Anderson, RN, MA, Senior Vice President of Engagement Solutions

Continuing our employee engagement series, this month I will offer some thoughts on the fifth attribute of a culture of engagement: Visible integrity.

You are being watched. 

Yes, as a leader in your facility or community, your employees are continuously observing what you say and do, as well as what you don't say and don't do. They notice what you pay attention to and how you behave in various situations. They witness how you address issues and how you react in a crisis. They take their lead from how you interact with residents and families. Employees are very aware of inconsistencies between your words and actions.

I know the phrase “walking your talk” may sound a bit cliché, but you just can't get around the fact that if leaders don't demonstrate visible integrity, they lose the credibility that would otherwise allow them to impact a culture of engagement. Believing that you are granted credibility and trustworthiness by virtue of your position is a dangerous assumption. 

  • Trust from employees must be earned and the only way to do this is by acting with integrity and demonstrating trust-building behaviors including:
  • Honoring your commitments

  • Exhibiting behaviors that are congruent with espoused values

  • Admitting mistakes

  • Maintaining open channels of communication

  • Listening (even when people are telling you things you don't want to hear!)

  • Holding people accountable

  • Giving credit where it is due

Underlying these behaviors are three character attributes that contribute to visible integrity: Self-awareness

Visible integrity starts with becoming fully grounded in your organization's values, having clarity about the conduct and actions that uphold these values and then maintaining a steady awareness of your own behaviors. Do they unswervingly demonstrate support for those values? For example, if service is an espoused value of your facility or community, do you consistently role model service behaviors? Do your words and actions exemplify service excellence?

Humility

Communicating organizational mission and values in your employee handbook is fine but people usually don't look to a written document for clues as to how to behave. They look to the people around them — especially their leaders. This is evidenced by Enron which had a 64-page manual outlining the company's core values and ethical policies that all employees were expected to follow. Rather, employees took their cues from company leaders and stretched the rules until the limits of ethical conduct were overlooked.

When you arrive at work each day, leave your ego at the door. Being humble does not mean being weak. A humble leader demonstrates confidence and forthrightness, but avoids any form of arrogance or bravado. When Jim Collins did the research that informed his book, “Good to Great,” he noted that the leaders who led the great companies were not the high profile leaders with big personalities, but rather the quiet, more reserved person who demonstrated a “paradoxical blend of personal humility with professional will." 

Humility allows you to admit when you make a mistake. It enables you to recognize, support, and genuinely praise the contributions of others.

Compassion

Do you hold the belief that each one of your employees is important and worthy of care? Do you appreciate and value the uniqueness of each individual? Do your employees know that you care about them? Your mindset about people holds a powerful influence over how you treat them and ultimately how connected they feel to your organization.

One manager shared that when he shifted his mindset from seeing employees as human resources to seeing them as human beings, his behavior toward them changed. As a result, he observed a significant and positive difference in their productivity and ability to work as a team. When employees see you demonstrating consistently caring behaviors, they begin to understand that they can trust you. Compassion serves as an insulator from the toxic impact of negativism and stress. It opens the gate to feelings of hope and optimism. Compassion is a natural integrity-preserver because when we feel compassion and empathy towards people, we are motivated to do right by them.

It's one thing to demonstrate integrity when you have an audience. But what if no one was watching? Would you still be true to the values that your organization espouses? Integrity means doing the right thing all the time, regardless of whether someone sees you or not. Leaders who act with integrity consistently listen to the quiet voice of their conscience. Even when inundated by differing opinions, pressured by external forces, and seduced by quick but short term solutions, the principled leader attends to his/her internal compass to guide decisions.

Here is a litmus test for integrity. Ask yourself, “If what I'm about to do were to show up as a headline in our local paper, would I feel embarrassed or proud?”

Nancy Anderson, RN, MA, is the SVP of Engagement Solutions for Align. Meet Nancy or other members of Align Booth 623 during AHCA's convention and expo in Nashville.

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